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Mulaney’s mimic: A look at the Internet’s favorite John Mulaney impersonator

Lukas Arnold courtesy of @lukastarnold on Twitter

On July 8, 2020, Twitter user @onlineryn posted “thinking abt this guy on tiktok that read a bible verse in john mulaney’s voice while wearing a suit in his bathroom,” accompanied by a 51-second clip from TikTok that features a blond man in a suit and tie, reciting a screed about divine vengeance and the path of the righteous man which overlaying text labels “Ezekiel 25:17.” (This “Bible verse” is in reality a line from the 1994 Tarantino film “Pulp Fiction,” a fact of which the original poster of the clip was unaware.) This post has garnered thousands of retweets, quote tweets, likes, and replies since its initial posting, and the video and its caption have been reshared on Instagram and other social media sites. But why? What comedic mystery lends this seemingly strange and niche clip its apparent entertainment value?

To answer this question, we must first look to the man whose voice it references: John Mulaney. Mulaney, a 38-year-old comedian from Chicago, is the writer and sole performer of a trio of stand-up Netflix comedy specials — “New in Town,” “The Comeback Kid,” and the Emmy-winning “Kid Gorgeous.” He also stars in the musical comedy “John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch,” and the former Broadway show and current Netflix special “Oh, Hello”; intermittently writes and acts for “Saturday Night Live”; and voices TV characters including Andrew Glouberman in “Big Mouth” and Spider-Ham in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse.” 

While Mulaney’s repertoire may be varied, his appeal is consistent; he’s widely agreed to be one of the most favored comedians among millennials and Zoomers, who’ve flooded the internet with animatics made from his skits and screenshots of his dialogue repurposed into reaction images. Among the components which make up Mulaney’s successful brand are his abiding and unashamed love for his wife, lampshade artisan Annemarie Tendler; the surprising juxtaposition of his buttoned-up appearance (he wears a suit and tie for each special, claiming that it was his first communion today) and his sometimes profane, always wacky comedy; and his distinct speech patterns. Reviewers describe his slightly high and nasal sound as “like someone straight out of the 1940s,” with an intense attention to timing and emphasis that denote his background in improv during his time at Georgetown. It’s a voice that’s easy to offhandedly imitate, but hard to actually perfect — unless you’re Lukas Arnold.

Arnold, a voice actor and comedian from Brooklyn, New York, is the star of the TikTok reposted by @onlineryn — as well as a variety of other content in which he imitates Mulaney, much of which can be found on his Youtube Channel. In his “John Mulaney Impression Compilations,” he takes requests from accounts on TikTok to record different dialogues in Mulaney’s voice, such as quotes from “Spongebob Squarepants,” lyrics from “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and birthday wishes for requesters’ siblings. His most popular work of this kind is  entitled “If John Mulaney narrated an erotic novel,” a 41-second clip with 1.5 million views and 80K likes that features protagonists who seduce each other via a discussion of the poor housing market and Mulaney-esque dialogue such as “Although I’m no longer religious, I feel like Jesus is just peering over my shoulders at all times.” His longest unified work of this kind is “John Mulaney sings WAP (Explicit Lyrics),” a deadpan, painstakingly enunciated version of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s recent hit; the remix has garnered upwards of 50K likes and 440,000 views at the time of this article’s publication, and I highly recommend it to whoever keeps playing “WAP” in Ethel Moore’s downstairs shower if they’re ever looking for some variety. 

Arnold has also posted his impressions of a variety of other celebrities and fictional characters, such as Harry Styles, Bill Clinton, Donald Duck and Gollum. His YouTube channel also holds footage of his original comedy on topics ranging from the disconnect between his deep voice and his slight, youthful appearance, to educating his father on the difference between gender presentation and gender identity. But nothing on the channel seems to have garnered quite as much attention as his Mulaney impersonations, even if many of the people who will ultimately be exposed to Arnold’s work may never be able to identify him beyond “this guy on TikTok.” Barring a direct interview with the actor itself, it’s hard to know how he feels about the fact that his imitations of another are far outstripping his own work in the public eye, or what he might think this says about how we interact with media and celebrities in the modern age. But should Arnold release an illuminating screed on his rising star status or just another chuckle-worthy video, he can be found on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok as @lukastarnold.